Mayors object to rail plan

The impact of a proposed project to upgrade the Louisville & Indiana Railroad line between Indianapolis and Louisville was greatly underestimated by a federal agency examining that plan, a group of four mayors said Friday.

Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman along with the mayors of Columbus, Franklin and Greenwood sent a two-page letter Friday to the federal Surface Transportation Board’s Office of Environmental Analysis with their objections to the agency’s conclusions.

The mayors contend the federal agency dismissed concerns they and others expressed about Louisville & Indiana Railroad and CSX Transportation increasing train traffic traveling through Seymour and other cities and towns along the 106½-mile line.

The two railroads want to upgrade the Louisville & Indiana line from jointed steel rails to continuous welded ones, a $70 to $90 million project that would allow for longer and faster trains that can carry more weight.

The project would be in partnership with CSX Transportation, which uses the rail line.

All new train traffic would come from CSX, which already runs some two or three trains on the line each day. The company plans to shift 13 to 15 trains per day to the Louisville & Indiana main line to take advantage of a more efficient route north. The L&I also runs a couple of trains on the line each day.

CSX would pay for the project, which the railroads estimate will take about seven years to complete.

The mayors asked the federal board to carefully consider their concerns while making its final determination, which is expected to come within the next month, according to L&I President John Goldman.

Should the federal board make a decision the cities oppose, there is a process for appeal, Surface Transportation Board spokesman Dennis Watson said.

Parties can petition the board for reconsideration or appeal the decision before the board or a U.S. Court of Appeals in the Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio or Washington, D.C., circuits, he said.

The federal office’s report said the proposed project would not have a significant impact on Seymour, Columbus or the other two cities, except for some delays for Seymour emergency services. It recommends the rail companies provide closed-circuit television systems with video cameras so train movements and blocked crossings in Seymour can be monitored by emergency agencies.

Luedeman said the equipment would be helpful but would not solve traffic problems created by trains. Some firms in the city use trains.

Luedeman has said he is not opposed to increased rail activity, but he is concerned about the potential gridlock it might create for emergency personnel and motorists in general.

In their letter, the mayors contend an increase in train traffic has already had a negative effect and many rail crossings are in residential areas and do not have any safety features beyond pavement markings.

The letter states the mayors feel the two railroads and federal agencies that govern road and railroad decisions should be required to cover the price tag for any improvements in communities because of the effect of increased train traffic.

Luedemen has said the only way to deal with the increased train traffic is to build an overpass on the city’s south side. The estimated cost of that overpass would be $30 million, he said.

Luedeman and the other three city leaders also said the two railroads’ response in the report brushed off the mayors’ concerns and that both railroads need to provide a more adequate response.

Landowners undergoing projects in all four cities have to address the potential impacts of new development and infrastructure, and the railroads should have to do the same for this project, especially given the magnitude of the project, the mayors wrote to the federal agency.